C-suite career advice: Gav Winter, RapidSpike

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? “Only leaders can make decisions. I’d much rather have everyone’s input and empower my team so they can take ownership of their choices and help me do the same…”

Headshot of Gav Winter, CEO at RapidSpike

Name: Gav Winter

Company: RapidSpike

Job Title: CEO

Location: Leeds, Yorkshire

A tech entrepreneur for more than 20 years, Gav Winter is CEO of next-generation website monitoring company RapidSpike. Having previously founded two major technology consultancies, Winter is an award-winning entrepreneur and leader, and an expert in high growth strategy. His vast experience of working with global companies covers sectors including ecommerce, retail, gaming, financial, trading, healthcare and utilities.

What was the most valuable piece of career advice that you received? I’ve had lots said to me over the years but the one that has always resonated is actually from my dad. He always said: “No matter what job you’re doing, do it to 110% and you won't be doing it long because someone will see how good you are.” I’ve kept this at the forefront of my mind throughout my career and it’s helped steer my focus in everything I do – whatever the task at hand.

What was the worst piece of business advice that you received? Only leaders can make decisions. I’d much rather have everyone’s input and empower my team so they can take ownership of their choices and help me do the same. When you involve others, you arrive at the best possible solution – it’s like having a ‘hive mind’.

What advice would you give to someone starting their career in IT/tech? It’s changed so much since I first started, but if there’s anyone out there who believes they can’t do tech, they’re wrong unless… it’s an attitude thing. There are so many facets to this industry and a place for everyone regardless of your expertise level. I’m personally yet to find someone who isn’t capable of working in this sector and truly believe that to be successful, you have to have the right balance in your workforce and a strong blend of skills.

Did you always want to work in IT/tech? I always enjoyed tech but if truth be told, I was more into geography at school. I remember I had a choice to make when it came to selecting my A-Level options – it was between geography and computer science. I opted for the latter because I knew there was a much clearer career path, and I’m glad I did.

Plus, I’ve always loved data, statistics, and analysis – all of which are perfect for the industry I’m in. I do love it and made the right choice because it’s afforded me so many opportunities.

What was your first job in IT/tech? In 1998, I was part of Yorkshire Water’s IT support desk. A turning point for me was when the organisation was collecting Section 24 sewerage data (it’s as glamorous as it sounds), and the team was working in the field outdoors on electronic pads to record everything. The problem was though, you couldn’t see the tool’s screens when it was sunny, nor could you go outside when it was raining because these tools couldn’t get wet!

So, I set about creating something that was more efficient – whatever the weather. I reimplemented a system for a laptop and this resulted in our team operating 60% faster than before when it came to recording data. The project was initially nine months behind when I arrived, but we subsequently finished three months early.

That was my first foray into questioning the role of tech and exploring how it could further streamline processes. It was also a lucky break for me too because that launch led to me being noticed and getting a software test automation job in an IT company a year later. I learnt so much in that role and had a top-quality teacher in Matt Lill, who I can credit for a lot of my skills.

What are some common misconceptions about working in IT/tech? That it’s full of geeks! Technically I am a geek, but I don’t think you have to be the same to work in tech. It depends on the role you want and which skills you can bring to the table. It’s also worth pointing out that we don’t just sit in an office coding and not speaking to anyone – it’s a fun industry where people work hard and play hard. I’d recommend that anyone get involved in this sector.

What tips would you give to someone aiming for a c-level position? I’d always say that you should listen to your team and manage the expectations of those above you. In addition, stick to your values. If you don’t live by these or you, find yourself part of a company that doesn’t embrace what you believe, and you won’t enjoy the role.

What are your career ambitions and have you reached them yet? I’ve definitely not reached them because there’s always something new to learn. The main career ambitions for me now are about growth and legacy. Knowing that myself and the team have played a part in customers saying, ‘I love working with RapidSpike,’ is important and I want to be able to recreate that over again. When I look back, I want to be proud of what I’ve achieved.

Do you have a good work-life balance in your current role? I should always have a good work-life balance, but the problem is I never really sit still. I’m constantly solving problems – even when I’m drinking water from a bottle and the top doesn’t work properly, I’m thinking, ‘how could I redesign this?’ I then have to have a little word with myself and move on!

I also coach junior football like I’d run a fun first Premier League team because I care about it that much. What I tend to do is, if I’m spending time with my family, I want to commit to it 100%. The same goes with work, other interests and so on.

What, if anything, would you change about the route your career path has taken? I wouldn’t. I’m happy with what I’ve achieved and know there’s always room for improvement. There are decisions I could look back on and question, but I accept the choices I’ve made. And, as well as thinking about change, I also think it’s important to recognise what I’d do the same – and celebrate those successes.

Which would you recommend: A coding Bootcamp or a computer science degree? It depends on you as an individual. I’m always great at starting projects but need that little extra support to finish them, so bootcamps or apprenticeships – where the work is driven towards me – are more my thing. But it definitely comes down to you as a person and what you feel is right.

How important are specific certifications? Like anything in life, if you know the basics, that’ll put you in good stead for the future. Certifications are good for focusing the mind and to learn specific subjects, but do I hang my hat on them and say, ‘you can’t have a job because you don’t have x, y, z qualification?’ Absolutely not. In tech, you should never rule out talent just because someone hasn’t got a specific certification.

What are the three skills or abilities you look for in prospective candidates? I’d actually strike a line through ‘skills and abilities’ and change it to ‘attitude’ because for me, it’s about having a willingness to learn, a ‘can-do’ work ethic and a positive mindset.

What would put you off a candidate? A terrible handshake! It’s about confidence and respect and I always remember the bad ones – I even told one of my business partners he needed to sort his handshake out. I’m not that bad really, if I know they’re great and they just need a more confident handshake, that's cool. Obviously, that’s been different during the pandemic interviewing on video, the tells are more subtle but engaging with the camera is a must.

What are the most common mistakes made by candidates in an interview? How can those mistakes be avoided? Making excuses and blagging. It’s okay to say, ‘I don’t know, but I’m going to find out,’ during an interview. And, if someone says that and comes back with an answer later, that’s incredibly powerful and will always stick in my mind. Taking ownership of not knowing, rather than trying to blag through an answer for the sake of saying something, is a much better option.

Do you think it is better to have technical or business skills – or a mix of both?  A good approach is to have an understanding of both. There are expectations within tech that you must be specific, but there are tonnes of grey areas. And in business, it’s the other way around – so a blend of the two is best.